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Posts from the ‘Flash Fiction’ Category

Backtracking

This is the first story I wrote for my writing tutor in October 2009. I hadn’t written since school but found myself longing to write again after my father died and I needed time alone in other worlds. I’ll never know whether it was his death that inspired my writing or my starting to write but looking back it feels like it was a catalyst. And having the discipline of a course to follow was just the boost I needed. I was inspired to dig out this particular story this week when a friend shared a photo of a sculpture by Penny Hardy. I’ve asked permission and Penny has kindly allowed me to use this photo here. Many thanks to her. I’ll put some links below for further interest.

You Blew Me Away by Penny Hardy

You Blew Me Away by Penny Hardy

Backtracking

Eddie sighed, feeling old, as if retiring from his job at the rail company was another nail in the coffin. He felt silly and uncomfortable wandering around a scrapyard, looking for goodness-knows-what amongst the rust and mechanical miscellany. Still, he had to prove Jan’s friends wrong – he wouldn’t be ‘getting under her feet’. So phase one of clearing his allotment was making the shed a useable space.

He’d noticed other allotment holders had chairs and tables and radios amongst the pots on their shelves. He thought he should probably have the same and that the scrapyard would be the place to look for some of these things.

Staring at the sharp, unidentifiable rust shapes and contorted bicycle jungle he scratched his head. It occurred to him that he was probably looking in the wrong place; what he was after wouldn’t be left outside in all weathers. But he continued staring up, impressed by how beautiful orange rust looked against an intensely blue summer sky.

And that’s when he noticed a hand. A metal claw of a hand, an accidental shape created by broken and twisted bicycle spokes. The hand was reaching up out of the wreck into the sky, reaching out for help. A cold bullet of shock and sadness torpedoed through his body and his memory tried to reload images from his past. He blinked them away turning towards the small office at the entrance where he would ask for help.

Under a shelter behind the office was a collection of old school desks. He ran his hand along one, feeling the varnish and remembering his own school days. This would be perfect; great for storing his sandwiches. He wouldn’t even have to go home for lunch. Eddie found a deck chair and an old radio and took them and the desk to his car then turned back for one more look. The spokes no longer looked like a hand at this angle – just a twisted mass of wiry metal. He found himself compelled to walk back to where he’d previously stood, so that he could recreate the illusion.
How wonderful that something so useless could conjure up such a powerful image:
A human shape created from junk.

And then he was in amongst the rust and spikes, pulling. Pulling out whatever he could find that was bendable, shapable. A powerful urge to have that feeling again was taking over. He could do this himself. Something that looked like old bicycle spokes could also look like a hand, so why not arms? legs? a head? He took to his car anything vaguely malleable, staining his clothes with rust and cutting his hands, until there was no room left in the car. He would come back.


‘You’re quiet this evening’ said Jan after dinner. ‘What’s going on in that head of yours?’
‘Nothing’ replied Eddie, visualising his hoard in the shed and imagining it taking shape already. He would start with the first: Hayley, the manic depressive who had leapt in front of his train in 1970. Then Mikey, the lad who ran after his ball onto the track in 1978. He would make 7 metal sculptures in all and stand them on his plot with a view of the valley and tell them all how sorry he was and how he would carry their deaths around with him for the rest of his life.

It was three months before Jan became curious. She had continued to keep the house as neat as ever, had seen her friends as much as before and was beginning to notice that Eddie’s retirement had made little difference to their marriage after all. In fact she was feeling rather neglected.



‘It was terrible’ she heard him say as she entered the shed ‘Your poor wife, John. I read all about her in the paper. Right, you can keep an eye on Mikey, while I start Gareth. At this rate I’ll have you all together by Christmas’
As he turned to move sculpture number three next to the first two he caught sight of his wife. She wasn’t moving, her face was pale, and tears flooded her eyes.
Eddie stepped forward and Jan dropped her head onto his shoulder. With their arms still by their sides, they both trembled with the release of many years’ pent up emotion and tears.
‘You don’t forget’ whispered Eddie to the top of her head. ‘How can you forget what you’ve done to people?’ He raised his head, guided Jan into his deckchair and leant himself against the school desk looking down at her, eyes feverish. ‘I read about them all afterwards. I didn’t want you to know how bad it was.’

Jan reached up and took Eddie’s hand ‘Tell me now. Tell me everything.’


End.


Many thanks to Penny for allowing her photo to be used.
Penny Hardy has a website here
: http://www.pennyhardysculpture.com/
and a facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Penny-Hardy/122465097936140?fref=ts

(I’ve noticed WordPress has just congratulated me on my blog anniversary. It’s 6 years old today so that was nice timing.)



Part of the Furniture

Two old chairs sat side-by-side facing the window. Arms worn, seats sagging, covers bleached by sunlight.

‘We used to talk. We used to look at one another. I remember when you used to notice me. You used to ask me me how I was. You said I was beautiful. Don’t you remember? You never talk to me anymore,’ said one chair to the other.

‘No. Not us. We never did. That was the humans,’ said the other chair. ‘We’re just chairs you daft bugger.’

‘Why don’t they then?’

‘Why don’t they what?’

‘The humans. Why don’t they talk, why don’t they look at one another? Why don’t they say nice things anymore? Don’t they care?’

‘I think they think they are chairs too.’

A Chance to Shine

My modest return to Friday Flash. It seems I haven’t written and shared a flash fiction since December 2012!

This isn’t the first time I’ve given a voice to an inanimate object. A couple of years ago I wrote a very short fiction about a pair of shoes with their own opinions…


IMG_3390
An apple from the garden, sat atop the wooden kitchen table, all perfectly imperfect.
Alone in the half-light from the cookerhood lamps, it proudly glowed: its contours more strongly rounded by its halo, the two small, black bruises and the – as yet negliable – newly forming wrinkles hidden by the shadows.

‘Paint me,’ it whispered. ‘I’m still beautiful. Paint me before I die.’

A woman entered the room, switched on a single light bulb, remembered the apple she had rescued from the ground in the morning, and smiled now at how its middle seemed noble and self-possessed like a robin’s. She saw the asymmetrical left-lean of the stalk, the elliptical shadow pool, and the way the reflection from the light bulb beamed out midway where the red and yellow colouring met. There was something really palatable – comforting almost – about the form of an apple.

She remembered drawing and painting apples in school. Hadn’t she been quite good at still life? For the briefest moment she wondered if she would like to sit and draw this apple now. But it was late, and anyway what would it achieve? She didn’t have time for unproductive things like drawing and painting.

‘Paint me. I’m dying.’

‘Where’s Cézanne when you need him?’ the woman asked the apple, pressing her lips together in compunction, as she turned out the lights, shut the door and followed the stairs to bed.

The forlorn apple’s previously tight, satiny skin turned sticky and soft in the dark, warm kitchen. It had tried its best but it hadn’t managed to inspire her.

Maybe the stories it had heard on the tree about humans being creative and appreciating nature the way no other animal could hadn’t been true after all.



Middling

A flash fiction
BroomHer house was in the middle of the town. It was not particularly big or small or fancy or plain. It was pleasant enough. She didn’t love it and she didn’t hate it. She liked it well enough.
She felt she had no cause to brag nor good reason to complain.
Mustn’t grumble.
Fair to middling.

She swept her driveway, pulled weeds out of the lane so folk could walk by, and clipped the hedge so the neighbours’ light wouldn’t be obscured. She didn’t play loud music or throw wild parties or keep noisy dogs.
Passers by made no comment. Passed no judgement. Offered no sympathy either.

She was just there. There she was in the middle.

She’d had love. She’d lost love. She was alone. She was lonely. But she saw that she had more than some and hid her tears. Who was she to feel sorry for herself?

She saw people come and go past her house and saw the fat people, the thin people, the old people, the young people, the rich people, the poor people. She heard love and hate in a word on the wind, violence in a drunken roar, thoughtlessness in a loud engine. She noticed differences, struggles, children crying, and she felt a need to be useful: to point out these differences.

Somehow.

But how?

So she wrote a poem and made a giant sign. For days she thought about the words, about the design. She made it by hand with brushes and ink. She thought about suffering and unfairness until her heart ached, and wiped away tears before they dropped onto the ink on the page.
She asked for those who have to care about those who have not.
She asked for people to love one another.
She asked for everyone to think about their actions.

After days of hard work, she bought an expensive frame and nailed the sign with the poem to the side of the house overlooking the lane, for all to see.

She went inside and rested.

When she awoke she heard breaking glass, shouts and knocking.
What did she know about pain and suffering?!
What right did she have to tell others how to live?!
Head-in-the-clouds poets should get a proper job!

After dark she went outside to remove the sign. It was broken. It was defaced. She was crying.

In the morning she went out and swept the drive. A passer-by spat on her broom. A driver in a shiny black sports car mocked her through his car window as he revved his engine and choked her with fumes. An old woman tutted in pity at her foolish extravagance.

She felt hurt and lonely and foolish.

She leant on the broom and controlled the tears.
She felt she had no reason to complain.

Who was she to feel sorry for herself?



Forty Quid and Some Fruit

A flash fiction

There’s something about having nothing that makes you feel … well, both heavy and light all at the same time.
There seems no point looking forward or back, ‘cause every time you do you feel sad and kinda hopeless. Life like this just goes on and on and on, and when you see no end to it, no better days ahead, it makes you want to top yerself. But there’s a lot of point in living in the moment. Why not smoke? Why not drink? Why not eat sausage and chips? Small pleasures. Simple things.

My health? My future?
I’m not expecting anything to be honest.

So, I stop the fags and buy some fruit?… What then? I sit here and fiddle with me orange peelings and cry about tomorrow? No. I share a fag with a mate over a cuppa tea and we get a few things off our chest. We can’t do much for each other but we’ve still got that.

And do I tell Benjy he can’t get bladdered with the lads after work on Friday so he saves a few quid? What then? His whole working week is about Friday and his friends. He couldn’t get through it if he didn’t have his Fridays. The rest of the week is bloody miserable for him. You know they don’t even pay him properly because he’s officially still training? What a load of bollocks.

Anyway… What have we got then? Forty quid and some fruit? That can’t get us a car, a new place to live. The fridge is knackered, the cooker is knackered. Megan needs a new bed. There is no future just by depriving ourselves further.

I was looking over this fella’s shoulder on the bus the other day – reading ‘is paper. Some woman had written how people who drink and smoke should pay more for healthcare. I laughed out loud, I did. The man turned and stared at me like I was mad.
I was mad to be honest. “Healthcare”?! Most people I know don’t even bother with doctors no more. We just wait until we keel over with liver damage or breathing difficulties. What’s the point of being told we ain’t living right, huh? “Yeah, sorry, doc, I lost me Waitrose loyalty card and haven’t been eating my pomegranates recently.”
It’d be funny if wasn’t so bleedin’ tragic. You know I know some people who’s not even registered with a doctor?

I think if I did have forty quid and some fruit I’d make a big bowl of punch and have a party. Share a little bit of happiness. We never seem to have any fun these days.

Ghosts

A flash fiction


What was strange, Florrie noticed, clipping Mabel’s overgrown fringe behind her ear the way she’d seen Mum do it, was all the stuff they said that she’d never heard before; stuff they could have said years ago if it was bothering them both so much.

‘Does it hurt?’ she asked as she tightened Mabel’s pigtails.
Mabel sat there trance-like; white-faced and red-eyed and smelling of Marmite. School mornings in winter were hard enough without being woken up by Dad coming home at 2am.

‘No,’ she whispered in reply like a ghost, staring blankly at the window as if there was nothing beyond it.

Mabel was silent until they reached the school gates. And then in a voice as thin and high as the frail winter cloud trails, she said, ‘I’m being good and quiet and it’s still all going wrong.’

Florrie took her hand for the first time in years and walked with her as far as the infants’ entrance.
‘It’s not your fault, Mabel. It’s nothing you did,’ repeating what Grandma had said to her.

But did she believe it?
She would carry on not being a nuisance too. Just in case it helped.

Yuck

A flash fiction

We are allowed to watch a film on a doctor’s fold-up computer in the camp. It is a film in a language I don’t understand with people so different from us it is like they are from another planet. Their clothes are plain and pale and flat. They speak too loud and too fast and there is never any still or any quiet.
A translator tells us it is a film popular with children all over the world.

There is a girl my age in the film. But she is not like me. She sits with her family at a table to eat but she doesn’t like her meal and refuses to eat it. I can not imagine ever refusing food.

The girl in the film is shouting at her father.
When the floods came and the mud and the house moved down the hill and we tried to run away I shouted at my father. But he didn’t hear me.

The girl in the film says a word: Yuck.
I would like some yuck. I would eat some yuck. I want to pull her flat hair and sit in her place and eat up all her yuck and show her how hungry I am.

Shelterbox

True Love


Will you still love me when I’m ugly?

You are ugly

And you love me?

Yes

Will you still love me when I’m old?

You are old

And you love me?

Yes

Will you love me when I’m wrinkly?

You are wrinkly

And you love me?

Yes

When I’m embarrassing?

You are

And you…?

Yes

Was I ever beautiful…? And not embarrassing?

No

And you’ve always loved me?

Yes

Well I wish you’d said something

What? And spoil your fun?

On The Button

I’m celebrating 2 years since my first attempt at flash fiction by sharing that first story from July 2010 (which is in fact more like a short story than a flash)
(Isn’t it funny – and rather worrying – how only 2 years ago I thought of sponsored academies as fictitious)

‘Zophar, listen.’ Luna crouched before him on the pavement. ‘You can get out whenever you want, okay?’
Zophar nodded, looking past his mother to the others. His body was poised in politeness towards his mother but in anticipation of other children, his eyes looked ahead to his new schoolmates and he willed her to say goodbye.
‘Did you Anti-Germ your hands?’
Another nod.
‘Where are your disposable toilet seat covers?’
Zophar patted his backpack.
‘And mask? Remember which pocket?’
More nodding.

His father opened the driver door of the car and the airlock was released with a Clop. Shhhhhhhh. He stepped out carefully, holding a green canister, spraying into the air as he approached.
‘Another squirt of Pollute Repel for luck.’ He misted the air around Zophar’s head and tiptoed back to the car, as if trying to avoid making contact with the ground. ‘One last button test, perhaps Luna?’ he called, slipping back into the car and sealing himself in.
‘Yes. Quick button run-though,’ said Luna. Tell me again.’
‘Emergency Back-Off spray, emergency water purifying tablet.’ Zophar’s fingers ran downwards over the buttons on his blazer at speed as he rushed through the list. ‘Emergency anti-viral pill, emergency contact button, emergency detox spray button.’ He touched his cuffs next. ‘Panic buttons. Now can I go?’ The five-year-old jiggled impatiently.
‘Anytime at all, if you are worried,’ continued Luna, ‘if someone touches you, if someone coughs near you, if the toilets are dirty. Any reason. You hear me? We’ll get you out straight away. Just press those cuff buttons. And when the car brings you back remember: shoes in the porch, through the first entrance door, blazer off, then through the airlock and straight to the arrivals shower. Don’t come in with your shoes and blazer and don’t touch the cruise control in the car on the way home. You hear me?’
‘I know, I know, you said. Now can I go?’
‘Okay.’ Luna kissed the air, not touching Zophar. ‘Go baby. Take care. Remember: buttons!’ She mimed pushing buttons as he ran off. ‘And don’t run or you’ll fall and touch the ground and I’ll have to take you home!’

Luna clasped her hands in front of her chin. ‘Good luck. Come home safely,’ she whispered.

Zophar scampered up the steps as fast as he thought he would get away with. He was more happy and excited than he could ever remember being.

This was better than birthdays. There were other children here.

The entrance was massive. It took up one whole side of the building.
‘Prevention Pharmaceutical’s Academy of Learning and Science welcomes you all and asks that when you enter the building, you do not share a door pod with anyone else,’ came a voice from within the walls.
Robotic eyes shifted around and each pod spoke instructions through hidden speakers as one hundred children at a time were allowed to enter the first segment where they were instantly separated by screens that held the children in stalls as they were scanned for identification and viruses.
Immediately three boys were locked in and a voice told them to wait until cars arrived to remove them.
Some newcomers were familiar with screening and airlocks. They stood patiently while the eyes and scanners moved around them. But the others, from older housing out of the city had not experienced Entrance Pollution Prevention.
Zophar could hear cries of ‘I want to go home,’ ‘I don’t like this,’ while others sobbed and tried to back out.
Luna had told him about the entrance and how other boys weren’t used to it. ‘They’ll soon get domesticated,’ she had said. ‘Everyone learns eventually.’

Next they were filtered into a huge glass cube. It was one of six on three levels. A voice told them to wait for the professors to collect them.
In this mix of trained and untrained five-year-olds, the difference was obvious to Zophar: the untrained boys had less shiny clothes and they didn’t have emergency blazer buttons. Zophar worried for them. But they didn’t look bothered. A few of them started talking to each other and they even tried to talk to the trained boys. Luna had said to keep away from untrained boys because they weren’t treated. He wondered if it would be safer to hold his nose then he wouldn’t be sharing their air. He held his breath for twenty seconds and gave up.
An untrained boy had been watching him. ‘I can hold my breath loads longer than that.’
‘Ludo’s the best at holding his breath. He swims underwater,’ said another boy.
‘He goes swimming?! Wow…’ Zophar stared.
‘Ye-ah, loads of us go. It’s really good for you.’ The boy threw off his blazer and mimicked breaststroke. ‘Gives you strong muscles. My dad said so.’
Zophar, Ludo and some others took off their blazers too, giggling as they ran in circles pretending to swim.

‘Why are your buttons so big?’
Zophar turned to see Ludo wearing his blazer and fiddling with the cuff buttons.
‘No! Don’t!’
The airlock opened and a robotic sensor promptly identified Zophar’s blazer. Ludo was shunted gently towards the door pods.
‘Please wait until your car arrives,’ said a voice.

From the door pods Ludo was directed into Zophar’s family car and within minutes he was lowered out at Zophar’s house.
A woman’s voice from a wall speaker said he could try school again tomorrow and she was glad he was home. ‘And remember:’ she said, ‘shoes in the porch, through the first entrance door, blazer off then through the airlock and straight to the arrivals shower. Don’t come in with your shoes and blazer on.’

Luna waited outside the bathroom with clean towels. She stared; horrified at the sight of the strange, untreated boy and then she hyperventilated.

Zophar’s father left Ludo in the entrance while he arranged his collection. Then the house and car were treated before the car was sent to collect the right boy this time. It had all been too risky and too stressful – Luna would home-school Zophar from now on.


This story is now published as an e-story from Ether Books:

(N.B. Thanks to Norman Geras – @normblog , who very kindly supplied me with the inspired prompt word: “prompt” when I asked on Twitter!)

The Deer Stalker

A short story / flash-fiction
It’s still there, like a trophy, on the kitchen windowsill – the bottle you drank from on Wednesday night.
I don’t drink beer. Anyone who knows me knows that.
I wonder how many people have walked past the house and seen it there and thought, ‘She’s had a man in her house. At last.’

I looked at it on Thursday morning, sitting in the sunshine, the last swill at the bottom evaporating into the morning air. I breathed the deliciously dirty, left over smell into my head and drank in the memories as I thought about your deoxyribonucleic acid still on its un-rinsed neck. Still on my neck. The words you knew I wanted to hear repeating in my mind, caught on a loop. Later when Mum saw it but said nothing I felt I was holding that night like a clandestine cloak around me. Memories still so physical I couldn’t share them. Not yet. Maybe in a couple of weeks I’d tell her about the man known by his friends as The Deer Stalker.

On Friday the stale beer-warmed-in-the-sun smell accosted me at breakfast, as if to taunt me: ‘He didn’t phone. You’re used and dirty,’ it said. I held it in my hands for the first time since Wednesday night and examined the neck, hoping I hadn’t made a mistake and fallen for a man who was easy with his DNA after all. I played the evening back like a film and smiled at the blank table top as if it were your face. I dipped the back of my neck into my shoulder as if it were your hand. And then I closed my eyes and pressed the warm rim of the beer bottle to my mouth as if it were your kiss.

Yesterday was cloudy. I washed and tumble-dried my sheets, and the house smelled of me not you or your beer. I looked at your bottle on the windowsill and told it to call me. I told it I was going to be out all day but I would have my phone with me. Over lunch I protected myself with hands in front of my face as I told Anna about my encounter with The Deer Stalker. She tore up her seeded roll doubtfully and gave me half. I found I couldn’t eat as she suggested reasons for your nickname.
After a silence, she asked, ‘What was it like? Are you glad he was your first?’ But I could tell she was cross.
I said, ‘Sorry.’ I was sorry I hadn’t told her sooner.
But she said ‘No.’ It wasn’t that. She was sorry I’d had to find out this way.
I didn’t understand.

I had this daydream this morning that I could take your DNA from the bottle and make a baby. I could give birth to you. Hold on to you. If I couldn’t have you then I would have a beautiful copy of you. Maybe you would find out and you would see me with this baby and realise you loved me. And then it dawned on me that maybe I’m already pregnant. As I showered I wondered if perhaps you’ve lost my number and you’ve been trying to contact me.
But now that Anna’s told me what she found out about you last night I don’t want your DNA. I’m holding the bottle under the hot tap and allowing myself, and the ghost of my virginity, one last memory of my defeat. I admire your stalking talent; your ability to watch patiently from afar until you’ve learnt a woman’s moves. That’s a clever technique to appear as if from nowhere and catch us offguard. And then the softly-softly charming, not touching, always getting closer and closer – winning trust, moving gently. Bit by bit. You won’t hurt. How could someone like you hurt? You creep. You creep.

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